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Md. Governor Prepares to Move Forward With Rules to Allow Resumption of Death Penalty

Gov. Martin O'Malley is preparing to move forward with regulations to allow executions to resume.
Gov. Martin O'Malley is preparing to move forward with regulations to allow executions to resume. (Glenn Fawcett - AP)
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By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 5, 2009

Gov. Martin O'Malley is preparing to move forward with regulations to allow executions to resume in Maryland now that his effort to repeal the death penalty appears to have failed, a spokesman said yesterday.

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The Senate abruptly ended debate on O'Malley's proposal yesterday morning, instead embracing a bill that would tighten evidence standards in death penalty cases. That bill is expected to pass the Senate today by a wide margin and head to the House of Delegates for consideration.

Maryland has had a de facto moratorium on capital punishment since December 2006, the month before O'Malley (D) took office, after the state's highest court ruled that lethal injection procedures had not been properly adopted.

O'Malley, a longtime capital punishment opponent, has declined to issue regulations since then, saying the legislature deserved a chance to permanently repeal the death penalty. Such bills have been considered during each of the past three years.

"It obviously looks like we won't have a full repeal this session, and the governor has indicated he will move forward with the regulations if the repeal fails," O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said. "The governor took an oath to uphold the laws of the state."

Regulations needed to resume executions by lethal injection have been drafted by state corrections officials, but it could be at least several months before they are adopted. Abbruzzese would not offer a timetable on when they might be put in place, saying the governor was weighing his options "about when and how to proceed."

Five inmates are on Maryland's death row. The state has executed five people since reinstating the death penalty in 1978, most recently in 2005, during the administration of former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

Yesterday morning, senators on both sides of the repeal debate expressed at least tepid support for an amended bill that would prohibit death sentences based solely on eyewitness testimony and require either biological evidence, videotaped confessions or videotaped crimes to proceed with capital cases. Supporters said the provisions were designed to reduce the possibility of executing an innocent person but permit the death penalty in egregious cases.

The fate of that measure during the 90-day legislative session remains unclear.

House leaders indicated that they would consider the Senate bill, which was cobbled together during a chaotic floor session Tuesday, but that they had reached no understanding with the Senate or O'Malley about it. Senate leaders said they would not accept any changes to the legislation in the House.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said that although the Senate bill fell short of O'Malley's objective, "the legislature is a place where it's sometimes better to have incremental victories."

Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg (D-Baltimore), a leading repeal advocate, said he would try to push a bill abolishing capital punishment through the House, adding that "this is not the kind of incremental progress we should be satisfied with."


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